Politics of pictures

My friend Helen Morgan spotted my small piece on a memorable holiday in the Sunday Herald Sun sunday magazine last weekend. I was amused to find the article listed in the index as ‘Great Escapes: What’s your ideal holiday destination? These celebs reveal their favourite spots for hanging out.’ Celebs?–No one warned me that I’d be sharing the limelight with such luminaries as Anthony Callea, Holly Throsby, Scott Cam, etc. OK, I admit that I was chuffed to appear on the same page as Peter Garrett, even if he has done a back-flip on uranium mining in Australia (not the position he held when we met at the Jabiluka protest in 1998, but that’s another story). But the funny thing is, I distinctly remember being asked to write about a memorable holiday, not a ‘great escape’. The piece I submitted was edited somewhat; here’s what appeared in print.

The Bayon, Cambodia 1992Angela Savage, author This photo was taken in north-west Cambodia in 1992. Most of the country was still unsafe for tourists, but neither civil unrest nor a raging tropical fever was enough to deter me from visiting the magnificent temples of Angkor. I was fascinated by the Bayon temple, which has about 40 [sic.] towers, into which almost 200 smiling faces are carved. Their serene expressions seemed incongruous in a country ravaged by war and poverty. But these stones had been around for a long time, and it struck me that they might see more cause for hope in Cambodia’s future that I could imagine. [end]

As it happens, I do think Cambodia, while maybe not a ‘great escape’, is a wonderful place to visit, especially the temples of Angkor Wat and the surrounding complexes. But in retrospect, I regret having chosen this image, especially after seeing a similar photo and reading about cultural offences committed by travellers on one of my favourite blogs. Although the Bayon is no longer a place where people worship, I’m aware that this image might cause offence to Buddhists– notwithstanding the fact that no one is sure if these eerily serene faces actually represent the Buddha or the Hindu god Vishnu–and I sincerely apologise if I’ve caused any offence.

I should point out that this picture was taken 15 years ago, and I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot since then about cultural sensitivity in countries like Thailand and Cambodia. That said, I’ve yet to have any feedback on my novel Behind the Night Bazaar from Thai readers. I’m hoping this will change once it becomes available in Thailand through Asia Books. Watch this space…


About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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3 Responses to Politics of pictures

  1. Helen Morgan says:

    I was impressed about you appearing on the same page as Peter Garrett too (although, as you say…). It’s a lovely image. Great post Angela.


  2. angelasavage says:

    Thanks for your comment, Helen. The other part of the story that I didn’t mention in the post is that I had my camera stolen in Vietnam on the way to Cambodia in 1992. Andrew bought an old Russian camera in a market in Ho Chi Minh City (or was it Phnom Penh?) for us to use for the rest of the trip, and the shots it took were a bit hit and miss. When I was approached to do the piece for the Herald Sun/Daily Telegraph, I wanted to write about Cambodia, but was limited by the photos I have that are clear enough to print–especially as they wanted one with me in it (clearly not a requirement for the other ‘celeb’ contributors!). Check out my flickr site for some other images from the trip, which I think are more beautiful.


  3. Helen Morgan says:

    Did I mention too, that you look so young! Boy do I feel old now!


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